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Left's Strike Force

Left's Strike Force

Author: Labonita Ghosh
Publication: India Today
Date: August 26, 2002

Introduction: The state police face flak as allegations of their excesses continue to spiral

It was almost the second Black Hole tragedy. On August 1 in Malda, the police rounded up 242 men and crammed them into a 20 ft by 3 ft lock-up to await court hearings. By evening, two undertrials had died of suffocation and several others lay unconscious. Most of them had been detained for minor offences, like drinking or gambling.

Before the public outcry subsided a similar incident occurred at the Alipore Sub-divisional Judicial Magistrate court in Kolkata when two groups broke into a fight over drinking water in a stifling lock-up. Fortunately, half of them clawed their way out and were shifted to an adjacent cell.

As the abysmal condition of the police lock-ups stand exposed, the law keepers seem to have suddenly become law breakers. Incidences of custodial deaths, torture and rape by the West Bengal Police are growing by the day. In July, in a Kafkaesque sequence, the Kolkata Police picked up college lecturer Kaushik Ganguly and his friends, Abhijit Sinha and Tinku Ghosh, for suspected collusion with Naxalite groups. They were allegedly tortured in custody; Sinha committed suicide a few days after his release.

The Supreme Court too came down heavily on the police recently when the Criminal Investigation Department failed to produce crucial documents in the Bapi Biswas custody death case of 1997. Incredibly, the officials pleaded that the papers had been eaten up by white ants. One of the judges wryly remarked that "special white ants" might have been manufactured for the purpose.

Last year, Amnesty International berated Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's "support for the police against allegations of human rights violations". The Government, many feel, is determined to snuff out dissent. Bhattacharya's espousal of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act hasn't helped this image. The police enjoy unchallenged power under Left rule, adds Trinamool Congress MLA Arunava Ghosh.

Cramped cells that lack proper toilets and fans flout stipulations requiring custody facilities to measure about 35 sq ft per inmate. At the Kolkata Police headquarters in Lalbazar, undertrials are not given clothes for fear they may use them to hang themselves. "But you can get anything if you have money," says a former inmate. At Alipore, detainees often pay up to Rs 40 for a bottle of water. "Those who are to be produced in court within 24 hours never get food," claims lawyer Tapas Chakraborty.

DGP Dinesh Vajpai claims over 15,000 policemen are given disciplinary punishment every year. Yet police atrocities continue. Who will protect the people of Bengal?

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